CORNER BROOK With a founding members list which may exceed 70,000 applications, Annie Randell admits she has concerns now that the deadline to join the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation has passed.
The deadline was Friday, after which point new applicants will need to apply for membership through the Indian Register, not the band itself.
The Chief Executive Officer of the band said with 23,867 members currently on the list, over 2,500 new applications were received at the Qalipu office in Corner Brook on Wednesday alone, with more coming in throughout the week at offices in St. George’s and Glenwood.
There are still 44 thousand applications to be reviewed and Randell said while she hadn’t heard from the federal government, the band was hopeful for an extension.
Prior to the formation of the band in September 2011, an independent study ordered by the federal government estimated between 12,000 and 16,000 members would apply for membership.
The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada recently hired lawyer Fred Caron to explore the enrolment process as concerns mount about the eligibility of many of the applications, particularly those from outside the province.
“Needless to say, the federal government does have concerns,” Randell said. “Every time a person gets admitted into the band, it’s costing them money. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve gone back to the negotiating team again to see how did the independent study go so wrong because obviously they don’t want to fund that many people.”
Randell said while the enrolment committee is independent of the band, the Qalipu council is also eager to ensure the integrity of the process, especially with limited funding available.
“If it comes out that the full 70,000 that applied are legitimately there, then I guess we will have to go back to the treasury board and see where we get the money,” she said. “There’s nobody saying these 70,000 people aren’t legitimate, it’s just that the number is unexpected.”
Randell said 34 per cent of the band’s membership lives outside the province and while the government seems particularly concerned about the legitimacy of these applications, the band wants to ensure all eligible members are granted membership.
“Chief (Brendan) Sheppard had made it adamant to the federal government that he wants to ensure the people who rightfully meet this criteria have the opportunity to be reviewed,” she said. “He has insisted that the criteria cannot change in any way. It has to stay the same.”
Randell said the band’s leadership group will meet next week in Halifax to determine the next course of action.
She’s confident the government won’t take the drastic step of discarding thousands of applications before they can be processed.
“They’ve been true to the process and have agreed to the process to date,” she said. “We’ve both went into this with good faith and expect good faith will see us through the review process.”
Central vice-chief Randy Drover said members in his area are concerned about the issue of application processing.
“They’re wondering what’s going to happen,” Drover said. “They are catching some of the news around it where the government appointed a lawyer to a file ... those people are concerned. They wonder what it means and if they will get processed.”
While he wouldn’t comment further until the new council meets later this month, Drover said it’s natural to worry if there will be enough available funding to service the ever-growing member list.
“That’s a concern anybody would have if they look at the numbers,” he said. “Looking at that, one can reasonably wonder if services are going to be effected. But again, we need to get together, look at the numbers and see what the situation is.”